4 Must-Visit Portugal Cities Just Outside of Lisbon

Marisa Megan

Portugal and Brazil

After a few days in Lisbon, you might be ready for a weekend away. Sintra, Cascais, and Ericeira are great, but during high summer, the crowds in these popular spots can be unbearable. If you’re looking to escape the masses, head out to some of the coolest under-the-radar destinations for a quick getaway:

Costa da Caparica

Portugal destinations: Caparica, Portugal.
Sunset surft in Costa da Caparica, Portugal. instagram.com/joaopedrodesign

On the Setúbal peninsula sits Europe’s longest continuous sandy shoreline. Stretching 24km, the Costa da Caparica is a local resort town that’s very popular with the Portuguese, but virtually unknown to foreign tourists.

This seemingly endless stretch of sand is a hit with day-trippers (it’s only a 20 minute drive from Lisbon, if there’s no traffic); however, it’s worth spending the weekend to really sink into beach life.

Portugal destinations: Caparica, Portugal.
Beach birds in Costa da Caparica, Portugal. instagram.com/cezarpez

While there are plenty of highrises and resorts on the north end, head to the south to get off the beaten track. The southern third of Costa da Caparica coastline lies with the Arriba Fóssil da Costa nature reserve, protecting it from development. On this end of the coast, you’ll find mellow beach shacks, colorful fishing boats, and a host of sandy-haired surfers, sun-worshippers, and cool sunset beach parties.

Santa Cruz

Sand inn Santa Cruz, Portugal. instagram.com/abenteur_portugal

Sandwiched between the popular beach towns of Ericeira and Peniche is a small beachside town overlooking miles-long coast of the Atlantic. Located 50 km to the north of Lisbon, this enchanting corner of the world has slid blissfully under the radar, and still exudes authentic Portuguese charm.

Much like its Californian counterpart, surf and skateboarding are themes in Santa Cruz. The expansive stretch of sand is divided into eleven different beaches (plenty of room for everyone), with waves good enough to play host to a World Surf League event every year.

On Praia da Física, stop by Noah Surf House & Restaurant, a laid back surf and skate gathering place where sustainability and social responsibility meet contemporary design with Portuguese touches. Then, go marvel at the Penedo do Guincho, a 30 meter high rock structure that’s one of Santa Cruz’s most iconic natural sites.

Later, join in for a Longboard Dancing Sunset Session, where you can learn to skateboard along the esplanade Antero de Quental, an incredible oceanfront beachwalk with to-die-for views. The sessions are hosted jointly with Longboarding Days and Nights, the local longboard skating community founded by too-cool skater-girl Valeriya Gogunskaya.

When you’re all skated out, enjoy an ice cold cerveja at the Cervejaria Boca Santa, then head off to the Miradouro de Santa Helena to watch an incredible sunset over the Atlantic.

Serra da Arrábida

Praia Dos Coelhos Arrábida , Serra da Arrábida, Portugal. instagram.com/lifeinsetubal

Just 40 km south of Lisbon’s historic center lies one of Portugal’s most beautiful and best kept secrets. Also on the Setúbal peninsula, the National Park of the Serra da Arrábida is a 10,521 hectare protected area that is home to pristine natural beauty as well as impressive historic landmarks and ancient ruins.

It’s also one of the best places to go to the beach near Lisbon. While most of the Atlantic coastline has strong waves and powerful currents, the beaches in the Serra da Arrábida are blessed with calm, crystal-clear turquoise waters.

Praia da Figueirinha, with its wide stretches of sand and easy accessibility, is one of the most popular beaches in the area; however, the real star of the show is Portinho da Arrábida beach, whose white sand and crystal clear water in contrast with the vibrant green of the parkland make for a more than instagram-worthy experience.

Even for lovers of history, the Serra da Arrábida has plenty to discover. Start off with a visit to the Arrábida Convent, a 16th century Franciscan monastery set on 25 hectares of parkland with impressive views over the Serra and the sea. Then, pass by Cabo Espichel to visit the lighthouse and it’s accompanying convent and church, surrounded by the Atlantic and overlooking virgin parkland.

Finally, be sure to make a stop by the Sesimbra castle. Built by the moors in the 9th century, this well preserved structure has both a quiet garden and a cafe, and offers spectacular views over the village, the seas, and the serra.

Mafra

Mafra is a pretty little Portuguese town that’s home to one of the most magnificent buildings in the country. Outdone perhaps only by the castles of Sintra, Mafra’s main attraction is the colossal Mafra National Palace, an extravagant 1200 room convent-palace hybrid. You’ll marvel your way around the palace’s immense grounds and interiors — just make sure to get your tickets beforehand, as the number of visitors can be quite high, especially in the summer.

When you’re finished imagining royal life, head across the street to the Praça da República, a quaint square lined with cafes and restaurants where the people watching is almost better than the food. Restaurant Fiel às Raízes is a crowd pleaser, and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, don’t forget to grab a pastel de nata at the pastelaria Polo Norte before heading off.

Next, take a blanket and a book to the Tapada Nacional de Mafra. This lovely former royal park was once private hunting grounds for the royal family and is still teeming with wild animals and plants. It’s the perfect place to laze away a summer afternoon, or enjoy a bottle of delicious local wine and a picnic.

Escape the crowds at Quinta do Brejo, a lovely B&B where you’ll enjoy a traditional country breakfast, horseback trails, and clean country living, just a short drive out of town.

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